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Junior captain Addi Marchese and the Valley Regional girls’ basketball team finished the season with eight wins, including a victory versus Westbrook in the Shoreline Conference Tournament. Marchese averaged 7.5 points, 2.3 assists, 2.9 rebounds, and 1.8 steals per game on the year. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Junior captain Alena Crosby became one of the Warriors’ top offensive threats and led the team in scoring with 11.7 points per game this year. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Sophomore Bitzy Klomp epitomized the type of tenacious defensive that the Warriors want to be their calling card in future seasons. (Photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
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The Valley Regional girls’ basketball team was a pleasant surprise in the Shoreline Conference during the 2019-’20 campaign. The Warriors featured a young club with first-year Head Coach Jaimie Toto, but still put together an eight-win season that included berths in the Shoreline Conference and the Class M State Tournament.
In Shorelines, No. 7 seed Valley defeated Westbrook by the score of 57-28 in the play-in round, then dropped a 38-24 contest against Cromwell in the quarterfinals. In states, the Warriors entered the bracket as the No. 25 seed and took a 54-48 defeat to No. 8 seed Woodland in the first round. Valley finished the year with an overall record of 8-15.
Coach Toto feels that Valley built the foundation to become for a perennial contender for years to come this season. While the Warriors were young, they didn’t lack talent, and Toto believes that her team is well ahead of schedule.
“This was a great first season for me and the team. There was a lot of talk about losing big players and having a young team. I was expecting a big challenge turning the program around as quickly as I’d like, but the girls bought into our team the first time I met them,” said Toto. “I could see over the summer and fall leagues that they played hard. I liked what I saw—even though it was raw and a bit messy—I saw the potential.”
Coach Toto sees room for improvement, and even with her team outperforming expectations, she still believes the Warriors could have had a better record.
“There were some games that we should have won, but it was a great learning experience so we can pull those types of games out next year,” said Toto. “The experience will help us prevent mistakes in high-pressure situations. We’ll be more calm, cool, and collected against tough competitors. Overall, I’m very happy with the girls, the team, and the chemistry.”
That team chemistry was in part established through Valley’s junior captains Addi Marchese and Alena Crosby. The two are a tough pair to face in the back court, and they form a great leadership dynamic.
“Those two complement each other so well, and that goes back to playing together for years. They have built a rapport through JV and travel leagues,” said Toto. “Addi is a very vocal leader, and Alena is someone who leads by example. They have another whole year to work with these girls. They did a good job this year, but they can do even more next year as we’ve built these expectations.”
Marchese played the point and was Valley’s main ball handler. Marchese averaged 7.5 points, 2.3 assists, 2.9 rebounds, and 1.8 steals per game for the Warriors.
“Addi is one of our most aggressive player offensively and defensively. At the beginning of the year, she had a lot more open shots. Then teams tried to take away her three pointers, and she would run to the rim,” Toto said. “She loves going to the rim. She looks for contact and goes up strong. She’s not a one-dimensional point guard. She has a lot of moves.”
Crosby played more of an off-guard role, though she could handle the ball, as well. Crosby is quick and a solid scorer, and she provided 11.7 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.0 steals, and 1.2 assists per game.
“Alena was our leading scorer, and she is a great shooter. From the beginning of the season, I told all of the girls that if you’re open, shoot the ball. Alena took that and ran with it,” Toto said. “She’s not selfish, but she looks for her shot. She probably could have looked even more. She took on the role of a scorer because the team needed her to be an offensive threat.”
The Warriors also had a tenacious defender in sophomore Bitzy Klomp. She would often guard some of the opposition’s best players, especially on the perimeter. Klomp supplied 4.4 points, 3.6 boards, 1.9 assists, and 1.5 steals per game.
“I know that next year, Bitzy can give us 10 points a game and strong defense too. We pushed everyone on aggressiveness and running the floor, and she does that very well,” said Toto. “She will need to look for her own shot more. If she works on her moves and comes back with a bit quicker shot, she’s going to be somebody the other team has to stop. She’s got the work ethic and the will to do that.”
The Warriors also received steady contributions from several post players. Freshman Lily Grow—who played as a stretch-four most nights—averaged 4.4 points and 3.8 rebounds per game. Junior Reagan Brenneman was more of a defensive stalwart playing at the center position, and she provided 4.8 rebounds and 1.6 points per game. Sophomore Salmi Miller also bumped bodies down on the block averaging 2.9 points and 3.4 rebounds a night.
“Lily adds a dimension to our post play that we so need. Salmi and Reagan are great defensively, and I can count on them to stop the bigs, box out, and get rebounds. Lily adds a bit more offensive dimension to that group,” Toto said. “Lily will be a great pairing with Reagan or Salmi. We need to get Lily in the right spots, and she can be hard to stop with her quickness and agility at that position. Reagan and Salmi work so hard for us. Those two are irreplaceable for us in a sense of physicality.”
Freshman Liz Allen will also slot into the post, but she can play a bit of small forward and power forward depending on match ups. Like Grow, Allen will be looked at as more of an offensive threat. Allen averaged 3.4 points and 3.1 rebounds per game.
“I envision for Liz and Lily to be two of the best players in the conference next year. They have the talent. Liz can even play the four with her build, so we’d like to add some post moves,” said Toto. “If she can pull bigs out of the paint, she can be one on one with someone slower than her. If they don’t come out, she can take a shot.”
Sophomore Ava Cunningham played back up point guard and supplied 6.3 points, 3.1 boards, 2.3 assists, and two steals per game. With Marchese injured in the playoffs, Ava had to step up. When everyone is healthy, Toto envisions three-guard lineups with Marchese, Cunningham, and Crosby.
“Ave really pushed the ball up the floor in transition. That’s the style we want to play. Whether we score or pull it back out, it makes the other team run and scramble on defense. Ava sees the floor so well. She knows she’s next in line at point guard,” Toto said. “She can be successful in that spot. I would love to have Ava, Addi, and Alena in at the same time. To have that dynamic and quickness on the floor would be unmatched in the Shoreline Conference. It would be very tough to stick with us for 32 minutes.”
Coach Toto is definitely looking forward to next year when her entire squad returns, along with some reinforcements in a new freshman class.
“I’m excited to have this whole team back. Not a lot of coaches get an opportunity like this. The corona virus may hinder the AAU season a bit, but we’ll still have the summer and fall, hopefully,” says Toto. “Right now, I know that a lot of these girls are taking this time to work on their game. Even though they can’t be near others, it’s a good opportunity to work on their shot in the driveway and in the cul de sac. We have a lot of hard-working girls coming back.”
From the Sidelines
The Valley Regional girls’ basketball team’s roster included junior captains Alena Crosby and Addi Marchese; juniors Reagan Brenneman and Libby Cap; sophomores Ava Cunningham, Kaylee Hayes, Bitzy Klomp, Salmi Miller, Madison Sheehan, Hannah Tejedor, and Campbell Toth; and freshmen Liz Allen, Lily Frese, Lily Grow, Brooke Rankin, Siena Schaller, and Sophie Scrivo.
This year marked Jaimie Toto’s first season as Head Coach of the Warriors. Her coaching staff included Assistant Coach Allyson Pitney and JV Head Coach Lauren Budney.
Valley’s wins during the regular season came against Coginchaug (38-33), Morgan (44-32), Somers (51-26), Haddam-Killingworth (48-46), Old Saybrook (45-37), Westbrook (60-38), North Branford (47-22). The Warriors took losses to Old Lyme (41-34), East Hampton (37-30), Amistad (51-45), North Branford (46-43), Cromwell (64-45), Portland (39-36), East Windsor (45-41 in OT), Lewis Mills (41-37), Haddam-Killingworth (48-41), Stonington (60-47), Cromwell (62-41), Coginchaug (57-45), and Morgan (61-36).
In the Shoreline Conference Tournament, No. 7 seed Valley defeated No. 10 seed Westbrook (57-28) in the play-in round and then lost to No. 2 seed Cromwell (38-24) in the quarterfinals.
In the Class M State Tournament, the No. 25 seed Warriors dropped a 54-48 decision to No. 8 seed Woodland in the first round.
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